Let’s be honest: We all fell in love with a certain dwarf planet last summer when New Horizons flew by Pluto, giving us all the best images of it we’ve ever seen. From its heart-shaped region to the ice volcanoes, it’s an easy planetoid to love.
This Valentine’s Day, follow Pluto’s heart to Space Center Houston and marvel at the present and future of space exploration. What’s more romantic than a starry sky? See for yourself this Valentine’s Day. Sign up for our newsletter or follow us on Facebook for discounts.
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For many years, Pluto was called a planet. It was the smallest planet in the solar system and the ninth planet from the sun. Today, Pluto is called a dwarf planet.
Clyde Tombaugh was an American astronomer who discovered Pluto in 1930. Learn more about Tombaugh.
A dwarf planet is round and orbits the sun just like the eight major planets. But unlike a planet, a dwarf planet does not have enough gravity to attract all of the space dust and tiny objects in its path. A dwarf planet also is much smaller than a planet, but it is not a moon.
Pluto has about one-fifteenth the gravity of Earth. That means a person who weighs 100 pounds on Earth would weigh only 7 pounds on Pluto.
Similar to the fictional planet Hoth from the Star Wars series, Pluto is an icy planet.
Learn more about recent discoveries in Pluto’s icy exterior.
Most of the other planets orbit the sun in a near-circle with the sun in the center. But Pluto’s orbit is an ellipse, and the sun is not in the center. Pluto’s orbit is also tilted compared to the orbits of the planets. The path on which Pluto orbits is angled 17 degrees above the line, or plane, where other planets orbit
Pluto is in a region called the Kuiper (KY-per) Belt. The Kuiper Belt is a large band of thousands of small, icy objects that orbit the sun beyond Neptune.
In 2006, NASA launched New Horizons, which is the first mission to Pluto. New Horizons is a spacecraft about the size of a piano that is flying to the outer edge of the solar system. The spacecraft took nine years to reach Pluto.
Researchers have theorized about the existence of a large, but unseen celestial body commonly dubbed Planet X, suspected to lie somewhere beyond the orbit of Pluto.
With its rover named Curiosity, Mars Science Laboratory mission is part of NASA’s Mars Exploration Program, a long-term effort of robotic exploration of the red planet. Curiosity was designed to assess whether Mars ever had an environment able to support small life forms called microbes. In other words, its mission is to determine the planet’s “habitability.”
Jupiter, Uranus and Neptune have rings, but Saturn’s rings are the biggest and brightest. An astronomer named Galileo was the first person to see Saturn’s rings. He spotted them while looking into space through a telescope in 1610.
Mars is known as the Red Planet, and gets its red color from the iron in its soil.